Poems, John Keats. First Edition, 1817. Peter Harrington Rare Books - Peter Harrington Blog

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Poems, John Keats. First Edition, 1817. Peter Harrington Rare Books

Poems, John Keats. First Edition 1817. London: C. & J. Ollier, 1817.

You can view our first edition of Poems here.

Presented by Sammy Jay, Rare Books Specialist at Peter Harrington Rare Books.

Octavo (164 × 96 mm) in fours. Contemporary green calf, richly gilt and blind tooled spine, dark red morocco label, three-line gilt border on sides enclosing blind vine leaf roll-tool, blind five-line border and central straight-grain panel, gilt turns-ins, marbled edges and endpapers. Housed in a green cloth solander box. Wood engraving of Edmund Spenser on title page. Bound without the half-title and blank; joints rubbed, pale stains on front cover, one or two leaves a little proud, four of the sonnets marked with a bold pencilled cross in the margin (”Written on the day Mr. Leigh Hunt left Prison”, sonnet IX that opens “Keen, fitful gusts are whis’pring here and there”, “On first looking into Chapman’s Homer”, and “On the Grasshopper and Cricket”).

First edition of Keats’s first book. Poems was published on 3 March 1817 by Charles and James Ollier, who were already publishing Shelley. The first of a mere three lifetime publications, it is a work of mainly youthful promise – Keats had appeared for the first time in print less than a year earlier, with a poem in the radical weekly The Examiner on 5 May 1816. The 1817 Poems attracted a few good reviews, but these were followed by the first of several harsh attacks by the influential Blackwood’s Magazine, mainly by critics who resented Keats’s avowed kinship with the despised Leigh Hunt. The best-known poem in the book is the sonnet “On first looking into Chapman’s Homer”, “by common consent one of its masterpieces in this form, having a close unsurpassed for the combined qualities of serenity and concentration” (Colvin), and described by ODNB as “an astonishing achievement, with a confident formal assurance and metaphoric complexity which make it one of the finest English sonnets. As Hunt generously acknowledged, it ‘completely announced the new poet taking possession’ (Hunt, Lord Byron, 249)” (ODNB).

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